Spencer Susser has taken out the top prize at the Tropfest short film festival in Sydney for his stop-motion comedy Shiny alongside filmmaking partner Daniel Cloud-Campos.
He sat down to share his thoughts on the importance of the festival, producing a winning short and where the Australian film industry is right now.
“I think Australians are lucky to have this festival, there’s nothing like it,” said Susser. “For a filmmaker to share your film, if you’re lucky you maybe get 1,200 people in a huge theatre and that’s pretty rare, you’re never going to get 100,000 people watching your film at once, and to see it and hear them react to it, I can’t think of anything close to that, it’s very surreal.”
“It’s an honour just to be part of it and I always felt just by getting a chance to share our film there we’d already won so to win some kind of prize feels like icing on the cake.”
One of sixteen films to screen on Sunday, entries from Australia and overseas, professional and amateur, ranged from darkly comic (The ATM, Drawcard, Hardball) to informative documentaries (Into the Maelstrom, Jeff Harding) to the downright hilarious (Pinata, Tay Man), while Shiny, a charming and visually beguiling comedy featuring a slew of disembodied suits, clothes and various apparel drew some of the biggest laughs on the night.
“We wanted to make it fun, it was so much fun to make and we tried to put some of that energy into the film,” said Susser. “We spent 20 days slaving over this thing, you make a film in a little bubble and we’re just laughing as it comes to life but you never know whether that is going to translate to the audience.”
Los Angeles-based Susser explained that after a commercial stop-motion project he and Cloud-Campos worked on did not end up going to air, they decided to “make one for us, where no one could tell us what we can or can’t do.”
“We also wanted to make something with nothing,” said Susser. “It was kind of a creative challenge. We had no budget, it was about being creative and as we started doing it we thought, wouldn’t it be great to make this for Tropfest.”
Using a mounted camera to painstakingly shoot the thousands of frames, Susser explained how the story and characters in the winning pic were based on used clothes he found in his closet.
“We basically mounted a camera ten feet off the ground and we just animated clothes on the floor; we moved the clothes one frame, took a photo, moved it a little more, took another photo, we did that about 6,000 times through the course of twenty 18-hour days.”
“It was incredibly work-intensive and each frame took us an average of ten minutes, I don’t know how long that is but it was a long time. Once we started we didn’t realise how long it would actually take us, I don’t know if it was naïve or just plain stupid, we were way off but once we got a little into it there was no turning back.”
“We started with this guy just walking and we knew we wanted to do a fight sequence as it would be fun to choreograph and as we got into it we found the story in a way, it kind of revealed itself to us.”
“We didn’t actually start with a script, we had this character that was based on clothes that I owned. I had this old suit that I’d bought on Sunset Boulevard in a tuxedo shop maybe 25 years ago. I needed a tuxedo so I went to rent one and they were selling one for $100 at the time which was every penny I had and I figured it would come in handy, this silly blue suit. I’ve worn it Halloween parties, to weddings, I’ve worn it to a funeral, I’d had so much use out of it and was ready to retire it, this was kind of a perfect way to end the life of that ridiculous suit I’d bought so long ago.”
Susser outlined how the film, featuring a much-prized diamond front and centre, focused on “people’s obsession with material things and money.”
“We thought that was sad how people get hypnotised by this thing and live their life for money, I’d say it’s pretty subtlety tied into the story but that’s what it’s really about.”
Susser also shared his thoughts on the Australian film industry and its desirability for filmmakers from around the world.
“The attitude here is yeah cool we’ll give it a go, we’ll figure it out. I love that attitude for filmmaking, it’s all about problem-solving and I feel that so many people here in the film industry are just up for it.”
“I’m such a huge supporter of the Australian film industry, there’s a lot of talent here, not just in front of the camera but the crews are the big stars of a lot of the films that come here, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a bunch of them and they’re as good as the top top top Hollywood people.”
“I think it’s easy to look from here and go wow Hollywood’s the place to make movies but I don’t think so, I think this is the place to do it, I think its such fertile ground.”
Glen Falkenstein on JWire